It’s not news, but health continues to be a major driver within the grocery sector.

A search for #healthyeating on arguably the most aspirational of all social media sites, Instagram generates more than 17 million posts. A veritable cornucopia of goodness, overflowing with sumptuous displays of artistically arranged fruit and veg.

At a time when we are in the grip of a growing obesity crisis, eating well has become something of a national preoccupation. A trend convenience store brands have not been slow to recognise.

Initiatives helping shoppers to make a healthier choice in-store, such as Centra’s ‘Live Every Day’, Spar’s ‘Better Choices’ and Gala’s ‘Good 4 Me’ programmes, to name just a few, are flourishing. 

Devised in conjunction with well-known dietitians, these deliver a broader range of grab-and-go nutritious options, clearly highlighted in-store.

Convenience stores are also cleverly capitalising on the blurring of the country’s foodservice and retail industries. 

Indeed, the convenience sector has one of the most highly developed foodservice offerings in the world and is regularly held up as an example for retailers elsewhere to follow.

A great example that illustrates the success generated by combining health and convenience is the growth of the John West brand.

In the latest Kantar Worldpanel Brand Footprint ranking of Ireland’s 100 most-chosen brands, the fish specialist achieved the highest penetration increase among any brand in the top 50.

Impressively, it rose by 16 places to 37th in the overall ranking. An increase driven by innovation such as the John West Steam Pots range; favourably received by today’s increasingly health-conscious shopper.

While brands continue to invest heavily in innovating in order to meet the twin trends of health and convenience, retailers’ own-brands have also upped their game.

Many own-brand ranges have been reformulated to improve their credentials with respect to fats, saturates, fibre, sugar, salt and additives. This move has undoubtedly paid off.

Kantar Worldpanel’s research shows while own label is growing by almost 6.2%, the proportion of the population buying the top 10 branded products is down by an average 2.8%.

In recent years, the gentrification of German discounters Aldi and Lidl has also helped create a greater willingness amongst shoppers to try out private label products.

On the flipside, the good news for homegrown brands is that ‘buying Irish and supporting Irish jobs’ remains an important consideration for the nation’s shoppers.

Indeed, the top four most chosen brands in the country continue to fly the flag for Irish producers, with Avonmore, Brennans, Denny and Jacob’s in pole positions.

What’s more, six of this year’s top 10 brands — Avonmore, Brennans, Jacob’s, Heinz, Coca-Cola and Tayto — have seen the frequency at which their goods are bought increase by an average of 6.6%.

Speaking of frequency of purchase, a major trend driving shopper behaviour is the ‘little and often’ pattern of top-up shopping.

A study by Dunnhumby shows small basket purchases are on the rise, as consumers in many cases visit stores more frequently, instead of opting for the traditional weekly ‘big shop’.

According to Dunnhumby, time-starved shoppers are seeking stores with convenient locations that meet their needs at different times of the day.

But while one would naturally expect top-up shopping to feature within the convenience sector, the research shows many of these smaller shopping missions are actually taking place within the larger format superstores.

In fact, large stores across the globe have experienced a 2.5% year-on-year increase in small basket visits. 

In hypermarkets, almost a third of global baskets have just three products or fewer, indicating that top-up shopping, or specific item shopping is not necessarily taking place just at the local corner store.

Larger retailers need to cater for this demand by having the right range, store layout, pricing and even speedy checkout options available. Checkouts have not become so speedy that they are no longer key points in any store for impulse purchases though.

In recent years, there has been a general move towards displaying healthier on-the-go options at supermarkets in lieu of confectionery, in a bid to save parents becoming deluged by a tide of ‘pester power’. 

A prime example being since January 1, 2015, sweets and chocolates have not been sold at the checkout of any Tesco in the Republic of Ireland or the UK.

Nevertheless, confectionery remains big business. Health-conscious shoppers who have been ‘good’ all week are eager to kick back and indulge on weekends and ‘treat days’.

Many consumers are subsequently prepared to trade up to more premium, indulgent options. A case in point is the Lindt Lindor Treat bar. Ireland’s number one premium countline, according to Nielsen data, is growing at 28.3%, with a retail sales value of more than €1 million.

It would appear many of us are following in the footsteps of Oscar Wilde who once famously declared: “I can resist everything except temptation.”

Gillian Hamill is editor of ShelfLife magazine


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